by Esmé Shapiro (Tundra Books, 2016 [out today!])

One of the best things about being in so many overlapping circles of the kids’ book community is that I often get a look at a book early. And this is one that has caused me to watch the calendar day after day after day after day to make sure I don’t miss telling the rest of the world when it’s ready. And people, it’s ready.

Meet Ooko.

4-5Ooko 6-7Ooko


Oh, how his face changes from happy to hope. Hope mixed up with some sadness, that is. Look how he’s got a fierce grip on those things he loves–his stick, his leaf, his rock. But look at where his eyes land–on happy hedgehogs, two by two.

While that might be the look of despair, let’s not forget his fierce grip. Ooko goes friend-hunting.

There’s a hole, a tree, and a moose. But no friends.



A page prior, Ooko spotted this Debbie playing with a funny-looking fox. The kind of fox you might have at home. The kind that starts as a puppy.

But then again, Ooko is the kind of fox that looked for a friend under a moose, and Ooko is stumped.

But then again again, Ooko is resolute. Adamant. Single-minded. Debbie-minded.


Debbie-minded enough to stick cotton candy on her head. Easy-peasy.

And it’s dear and sweet and heartbreaking to watch Ooko try so hard. And then, thanks to some smeared or shattered glasses, Ooko turns into Ruthie. A funny-looking fox, fit for a Debbie.


(Side note: best leg hair in a picture book this year? Or ever? Not to mention that sock bun.)

It doesn’t take Ooko long to get completely over this Debbie’s games.


This picture–OOOF. Right? Prim and proper and blow-dried and dressed up and despite wanting to be loved, this was not the kind he was looking for. According to the hairy-legged-lady’s gallery wall, Ruthie was all of those things that a fox is not.

And isn’t that the best news?

Because maybe, maybe, when you hightail it from the house that fits you wrong, you run into someone on the outside. Someone who likes sticks. Someone who wants to play.

Oh my crickets, this book. Be a Debbie and track it down, will you?

For more Ooko fun, click here for an Ooko Storytime Kit.

And don’t miss the grunts and squeals of our hero in his very own book trailer.

For friends who took a while. For Debbies who turn out to not be.


Thank you to Tundra Books for the images in this post. Be sure to click to enlarge!

Presenting . . . The Undies!


It’s okay.

We’ve all done it.

Stripped off the dust jacket to expose the naked underbelly of that brand new picture book. Peeked underneath the taped-on-Mylar of library books, desperate for an Easter egg or two. Sighed with delight and intrigue when we catch a glimpse of that unexpected story.

When the case cover functions as a design feature, we’re all aflutter.

Are you?

Go on. Look underneath.

Travis Jonker of 100 Scope Notes and I are proud to announce a new award dedicated to the case cover: The Undies.

Undie Awards Logo_605

What is a case cover? This is a case cover. And we want to award the cream of the crop.

Here’s how The Undies will work:

Now through November 1st, 2016 we are accepting nominations for the best case covers of 2016.

In November, Travis and I will announce shortlists in a variety of categories and then we’ll open up the polls. The winner will be decided by popular vote (see also: you). We’ll announce the winners shortly thereafter.

To nominate a case cover for the 2016 Undies:

  1. Check out the case cover gallery we have going at Design of the Picture Book (that’s right here, in the upper right of the main page) – if the case cover you want to nominate is already there, no need to nominate it again.
  2. Make sure your nomination was published in 2016.
  3. If the case cover you want to nominate is not in the gallery and was published in 2016, take a picture and send it to me at carterhiggins (at) gmail (dot) com. Put THE UNDIES in the subject line.

Anyone (including publishers) can nominate.

It’s time to recognize this unsung part of the book – what do you say?


Tough Guys + an interview with Keith Negley


by Keith Negley (Flying Eye Books, 2015)

Heads up, email subscribers: my blog took a bit of a tumble so I’m reposting what was lost in the shuffle. Apologies, and thank you for reading!

The kind folks at Flying Eye sent over a preview of this book, thinking it was right up my alley.

It’s right up my alley.

The theme: yes. The design: yes. The snappy, bold, in-your-face look at tough guys plus the snappy, bold, in-your-face look at feelings: yes.

I chatted with Keith Negley, and learned a lot about this debut effort. I hope there’s more from him, and I hope you enjoy this peek into the brain of a picture book creator.

toughguys-4 toughguys-7

Hi Keith! Can you talk about where this story came from? And what the process was like for its creation?

It all started when my son Parker who was 6 at the time stole a soccer ball from a friend during soccer practice and his friend got upset and they fought over it. Parker was angry at first, but then felt embarrassed and ashamed because he knew he did something wrong. I could tell he was struggling with how to handle all these new emotions that were happening to him at the same time. He walked away from the group and sat down to be by himself because he didn’t want anyone to see him cry. Later that night, I explained to him that it was totally natural to cry and that everybody does it. I told him sometimes even I cried, and he looked up at me and asked, “grown ups cry too?

It blew his mind that even adults cried because he thought it was something only kids did. I wished I had a book I could read to him that let him know that frustration and crying is a natural thing not to be ashamed of. The next day the idea for the book popped into my head.

You’ve done a lot of editorial illustration, but this is your first children’s book. Can you tell us the how and why you got into books?

I always liked the idea of making picture books for children, but it wasn’t until I became a parent and started reading a ton of picture books to my son did I realize there was a lack of the kind of books we enjoyed. Honestly the books I’ve been working on were born out of necessity because I wanted to read them and no one else had made them yet.

Your tumblr tag line is spectacular: part man, part negative space. Can you explain where that came from and why it represents you so well?

Ha, I find tragedy to be the greatest muse. The subjects I enjoy working with the most are the ones that break my heart. It’s cathartic somehow, and I feel like I really get to put a piece of me into the work. What ends up happening is I have a portfolio of rather depressing subject matter. But I’m always striving to create beautiful images with it. That juxtaposition is challenging and rewarding for me.

Add to that I tend to utilize negative space as a compositional tool fairly often and so I thought it tied the content in with the image making nature of the blog.

toughguys-9 Who are some of your story heroes?

I’ve been a huge fan of Lane Smith for years and years. Jon Scieszka is another one. Ezra Jack Keats. Jack Kent’s Socks For Supper is one of my all time favorites as a kid and it still holds up today.

What do you remember about picture books from your childhood?

I remember my mom reading them to me and how she would make different voices for all the characters. I try to do that for Parker but he’s not into it at all unfortunately.


What is your favorite piece of art hanging in your home or studio?

Not sure if this counts, but I like to make music in my spare time and I’m a huge nerd for vintage synthesizers. I currently have a 1979 Korg 770 sitting in my studio and just looking at it makes me very happy. I consider them works of art.

What’s next for you?

Trying to schedule some reading events for the fall/winter and I’m in the middle of working on my second book for Flying Eye which should be out in time for Father’s Day next year!


Thank you, Keith! And vintage synthesizers totally count as works of art.

PS: Congratulations to the winner of the The Story of Diva and Flea giveaway, Ashley! And thanks to Flying Eye for the images used in this post.


Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower

Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli

by Greg Pizzoli (Viking, 2015)

I’ve read lots and lots and lots of books for kids. I’ve read lots of questionable ones and I’ve read lots of spectacular ones. And then I’ve read a handful that are simultaneously spectacular and fresh and inventive and completely honor how smart kids are.

This is one of those.

You might know Greg from that burping crocodile or the hound with a need for speed, but did you know a book about an impossible con is exactly what the world of kids’ books needed? Meet this Greg.

Actually, meet Robert Miller.

Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli

(click to enlarge)

A normal kid, one who leaves home to become an artist despite his parents’ best efforts. A normal kid with a penchant for billiards, poker, and gin.

A grifter known as Count Victor Lustig.

Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli

(click to enlarge)

This liqour induced pow-wow below the Totally Legit delivery truck might be one of my favorite moments in this thing. It’s accompanied by a sidebar of Totally Legit information about the Prohibition. This blend of grit and truth and history hangs right in the suspense of Vic’s story. It feels like Saul Bass made one of those The More You Know PSAs right there on the page.

Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli

(click to enlarge)

One of the greatest tricks in this whole book is how we see the silly, unsuspecting faces of Vic’s marks, but never his. Only a thumprint. Both the clearest and fuzziest identification.

Mixed-media collage always yields great texture, just by its very nature. But Greg adds custom-made rubber stamps, actual photo texture from the floor of the Eiffel Tower, and like we’ve already seen, his very own thumbprint. This approach is as layered and grungy as Vic himself. This book can’t be slick and clean and soft–it needs depth and dirt and intrigue. That’s what it’s got.

That’s no con.

Check out these endpapers. Brick wall, posted bills, danger, and suspense.

Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli

(click to enlarge)

Why does that not look like the full width of the book, you ask?

Because then there’s this:

Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli In the best of places, that sneaky space under the dust jacket, where unsuspecting grownups don’t dare peek. Kids do. They know where the good stuff is. And this is the good stuff: The Ten Commandments for Con Artists by our hero.

I think 8 is my favorite. Or 5. Or 10.

And now, don’t miss Greg and Julie’s chat about this book over at Seven Impossible Things. Lots to digest. Commandment 2 will be an impossibility.



I received a copy of Tricky Vic from Viking, but the comments are all my own. And speaking of Viking, huge kudos to the publicity team that sent the book like so:

Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli

I Know a Lot of Things

I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand

by Ann and Paul Rand (Chronicle Books, 2009; originially published in 1956.)

I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand

You might remember how much I love this pair’s Sparkle and Spin, and this one is just as playful and just as true. That case cover surprise is an a delight, and complementary-colored endpapers start this book with a bang.

I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand

Paul Rand’s graphic genius is so well-matched by the simple and spare words of his wife, Ann. The text and the pictures both glide through that magical reality of childhood. Things that might seem daunting to someone bested by time are small and accessible. Things that may seem obvious or forgettable are ripe for play and adventure.

I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand

It’s a reminder to slow down, listen, and watch. The world is built of wonderful things. The big picture is as beautiful as the details.

I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand

Here, the sentiment is the whole of this person. I’m not sure there’s an ending more perfect, not for kids or their grownups. There’s so much more to know, but what you carry with you can stay.


Home Grown Books

Homegrown Books by Cecile Dyer and Kyla Ryman (Home Grown Books, 2014)

Homegrown Books Homegrown Books I’ve written before about how I’m a sucker for board books, but this new-to-me publisher has raised the board book bar. These books are both meaningful and beautiful, which is a touch balance to strike in a book so seemingly simple. This one, Dress Up, shows a series of cats with killer expressions donning all sorts of odds and ends. A fancy cat fastens a bow to one side, a dapper cat sports a vest. Mask! Scarf! Glasses! Cats with style, for sure.

Homegrown Books This board book is a second edition reprint, because it originally showed up in teensy paperback form as part of a 9-book Little Reader series, The Play Book Set.

Homegrown Books

Homegrown Books See Dress Up up there with the orange cover? The insides are similar, but the pictures are bordered with white space holding the words.

Nothing in these books is too cutesy, too precious, or too simple. The art is sophisticated, accessible, and challenges a little brain’s wonderings.

Homegrown Books Homegrown Books Kids need good art, and Home Grown Books is doing a bang up job fitting that bill. (Plus, any sax-playing hen is fine by me.)

Clever packaging includes tips on how to read with the bittiest in your family. Talk about the pictures! Make connections! Everyday concepts meet rich art. It’s a lovely thing.

Homegrown Books Homegrown Books

Eco-friendly and recycled paper to boot! Lots to love about these new books on the block. Find a babe, stat.

Here’s illustrator Cecile Dyer talking about watching the world, interacting with young readers and artists, and of course, these these tiny, book-shaped treasures.




Ninja! and an interview with Arree Chung

Ninja! by Arree Chungby Arree Chung

published June 2014 by Henry Holt and Company, an imprint of Macmillan.

Friends, I’m so excited to have Arree Chung in this corner of the internet today. I met Arree last summer at SCBWI in Los Angeles, and am humbled every time I think about how we share an agent and a friendship. He’s an expert storyteller with a bright, animated style and a fresh perspective. Ninja! is his debut picture book, and it will be far from his last.

First, you should watch this short film. And here’s my confession. Arree sent this to me a number of weeks ago with the caveat that it was unreleased and not to share. Except: it was too awesome not to. So I showed it to my students, because single-digit-aged kids are pretty good at secrets and don’t have Twitter accounts anyway.

They loved it. And I mean L O V E D  I T. Each class, without fail, asked to watch it many, many times in a row. So we did.

Meet Maxwell, and then meet Arree.

breaker What has been the most surprising thing about this whole debut picture book thing?

The most surprising thing about the publishing process is how long it takes to actually bring a book to market (1.5 – 2 years).  My background is in games, where companies can publish with the click of a button and make updates via the internet.  The process gives me appreciation for the care that goes into the publishing process.  It also helps to have a great team of people to work with.  Everyone from your agent, publisher, editor and art director in making the book and then there’s publicity, marketing and sales folks that help in getting the book out. 1stCoverAn early cover design. An early cover design. Ninja_Revision_Notesrevision notes.

I’m fortunate to have a supportive publisher in Macmillan.  They have a great team of experts.  Each one helps you with a specific aspect of the publishing process.  I’ve learned so much.  I’m so grateful I’ve been in good hands.  I’ve worked hard to hold up my end of the deal and make something special.  With Ninja it was easy, because I loved it so much.

Who are your creative and/or literary heroes?

Oh, so many!

Roald Dahl
E.B. White
Jack Gantos
Judy Blume
Jeff Kinney

Russell Patterson
Chris Ware
Yuko Shimitzo

Shel Silverstien
Wolf Erlbruch
William Steig
Mo Willems
Peter Brown
Leo Lionni
Maurice Sendak
Ian Falconer
Jon Klassen
David Shannon
Bill Peet
Calef Brown

Jim Lee
Scott McFarlane
Jeffrey Brown
Bill Watterson
Jim Davis
Charles Schulz

Brad Bird
John Lassetter
Guillermo Del Toro
Chris Sanders
Danny Boyle
Tim Burton
Nick Park (Wallace & Gromit)
Steven Spielberg
Hayao Miyazaki

Can you talk about the similarities and differences in animation and the picture book form?

I love both mediums for different reasons.  Both mediums can transport the reader into new worlds.  I love it when a book or movie captures my imagination and I am completely immersed in a world that has been built.  The world is invented but it feels familiar and the story resonates with honesty.  I hate it when a story is force feeding me a message and it feels like an infomercial or when a story rambles without a focus.  Storytelling is magical when it has both the imagination and heart and speaks to you directly and honestly.  A great story is so exhilarating.  There’s nothing in the world that feels like it.  I love both animation and picture books because they have the ability to create magic.

How they are different?  Well, I think the main difference is that film tends to be a passive experience.  The viewer is in a dream like state that watches the story unfold.  It’s like being suspended in a time capsule and you watch everything that happens.  You take the story in a more subliminal kind of way. NinjaCreepAway Spread14_15Books on the other hand I think are active experiences.  You as the reader actively interact with the words and pictures.  It’s like your brain is the film projector and is working to play the story.  Because of this, I think books are much more intimate experiences.  You go at your own pace.  You stop, question and wonder.  Sometimes you’re so engaged, you speed all the way through and sometimes you like to read slowly just because.  Readers engage books with their imaginations and a lot of the story is told in-between the words, the page turns and the illustrations whereas films are full experiences that use all the arts of composition, acting, music and visuals to put you in a state of suspension.

Both are magical and I love doing both so much.

Can you give us any behind-the-scenes information on how you created the short film? Did you get to know Maxwell differently in that format?

Yeah!  It was so thrilling to bring Maxwell to life.  I had a pretty good idea of who he is as a character after creating the book but actually seeing him move and casting Taylor Wong as Maxwell brought another whole dimension.

As for production, here’s a quick behind the scenes look of what it took to make the short film.  I plan on doing a much more in-depth look in a separate blog post.

We used 4 software tools: Photoshop, Flash, After Effects and Final Cut Pro.  The process was a highly collaborative effort between folks at MacMillan, myself and David Shovlin, the animator.  It was a ton of work to do but a ton of fun as well.ShortFilm_Process

In all, it took about 5 weeks of work.  David and I worked really hard on it and I’m really proud of what we created in a relatively short period of time.2013-09-09 23:23Where did Ninja! come from?

It’s been my dream to make my own picture books for a long time.  The first conception of Ninja came when I was in art school.  I jotted down “A boy goes creeping around the house dressed as a Ninja and causes trouble.”  That was probably in 2007 or so.

Maxwell_1st_CharacterSketchesNinja_Thumbnails        MaxwellScanNoPencil Ninja_Thumbnails        MaxwellScanNoPencil Ninja_earlySketches-1Early Ninja! thumbnails and character sketches.

In 2012, I decided to do the Illustrator Intensive at the SCBWI Summer Conference.  We were given an assignment to submit a story along with a manuscript, thumbnails, character sketches, and a finished illustration.  Up to that point, I had been writing stories for years but was stuck on many of them.  For the workshop we had to write down answers to the following questions:

WHAT is the dilemma?
WHERE does it take place?
HOW is the problem solved?

This really helped me a lot.  Previous to this, many of my stories didn’t have focus and wandered a lot.  Ninja was a big break through for me as a storyteller and I had lots of people who helped guide me through it.   I’m so thankful for Rubin, my agent, and Kate, my editor.  The more I worked on it, the more the world and character took shape and gained depth.  It was so much fun to make.

Do you remember any art you made as a kid? What was it?!

Yeah, I made a lot of ninja stars and origami.  I was also obsessed with Legos.  I loved to build cruiser space ships and large fortresses armed to the teeth.  Whenever my uncle bought us Legos, we would make the thing we were supposed to make and then tear it apart and then make what we wanted to make.  Making your own thing was much more fun.

I was a huge comic book reader and collector as well.  I bought all of the X-men, Spiderman, Spider-ham, Batman and Spawn comics.  I still buy comics.

I also really love the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  I used to record all of the episodes.  In fact, I used to press pause on the VCR and trace drawings of the Ninja Turtles by overlaying paper onto the TV.  At school, everyone thought I was the best drawer, but I never told anyone my technique til now!  Eventually I copied so many drawings I could draw it out of memory.  I tried to do the same technique with Transformers but that wasn’t nearly as successful because I didn’t understand perspective as at 12 year old.

And now what’s next for you?Ninja_GhostStoryI’ve got a lot of things I’m working on.  I have lots of Ninja stories to tell with Maxwell. (I’m so excited about all of them!)  One of them involves an old Chinese folktale involving ghosts!

I’m also illustrating two Potty Training books for kids that are hilarious.HowToPeeillustrations from How to Pee

I have lots of picture book stories I’m developing and I’m also writing a middle grade novel titled Ming Lee, All American.  Ming Lee chronicles my experiences growing up as an ABC (American Born Chinese).  It’s deeply personal and is funny in that Louis CK, embarrassing but honest kind of way.  I would describe it as Judy Blume meets Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  Of course, it is its own thing that I am figuring out.  I have a sense of what I want it to be but you never know what it will be until you get there.

Ming_Lee_Cover MingLeeHairCut

breaker A huge thanks to Arree for this peek into the mind of a master craftsman. Be sure to get your hands on Ninja! this week!


Book-Gifting Guide: For the Design Devotee

For the young reader, the old artist, and everyone in between. Here are a couple handfuls of spined-up art museums. Some have flaps and things to flip, some have acetate papers that carefully reveal things below, some are massive, some are mini. All are spectacular.

(I’m linking each book to its respective publisher. Consider shopping at your local bookstore or Indiebound. Happy reading!)

GiftGuide2013_One 1) Pantone Color Puzzles // by Tad Carpenter  ⏐⏐ Abrams Appleseed

2) One Night, Far From Here // by Julia Wauters  ⏐⏐  Flying Eye Books

3) Walk This World // by Lotta Nieminen ⏐⏐ Big Picture Press

4) Benjamin Bear in Bright Ideas // by Philippe Coudray ⏐⏐  Toon Books

5) Jane, the Fox and Me // by Franny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault ⏐⏐  Groundwood Books

GiftGuide2013_Two 6) Maps // by Alexsandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski ⏐⏐ Big Picture Press

7) House Held Up By Trees // by Ted Kooser and Jon Klassen ⏐⏐ Candlewick Press

8) The Big Book of Art // by Hervé Tullet ⏐⏐ Phaidon

9) The Goods: Volume 1 // by McSweeney’s  ⏐⏐ Big Picture Press

10) Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design // by Chip Kidd  ⏐⏐ Workman


You’re a Rude Pig, Bertie {book trailer}

This summer I got to work with the fantastic folks at NorthSouth Books to create a trailer for an upcoming release by Claudia Boldt, You’re a Rude Pig, Bertie!

Bertie is definitely a rude pig, but he’s also irresistible and will endear himself to you the second he reveals his true heart. And I adore Claudia Boldt’s work – a muted and restrained palette, unexpected shapes and proportions, and a charming cast of characters.

(I wrote a teensy bit about her previous book, Odd Dog, over at Design Mom, so what a thrill to create something for a creator you admire!)

Anyway. I love the result, and hope you love it, too!


What do you think? Adorable, right? And super catchy. I guarantee that song will tag along with you the rest of the day – and you’re welcome!


P.S. – I haven’t heard from the winners of the Sassy board books. Are you out there, Olivia De Hamilton and Sara Floyd? I’ll pick new winners on Friday if I don’t hear anything. Stay tuned!

Baby Journal: The Story of…


by Yasmin Smail

{published 2013, by Cicada Books}

A small departure from picture books on this blog, making room for a book celebrating tiny arrivals! If you visit the online home of Cicada Books, you might have to do some jaw-lifting. Their eye towards the visual is a unique voice, and their books reflect that.

And please. Stop a while at the Discovering Kings Cross pop-up book, cause whoa.


But this one! In this world of pinning and Instagramming and having cameras on our darn eyeglasses, do you think the physical art of baby book-making is dying?

I don’t know. But if I had a baby, this is how I would want to scrapbook all of their bitty things. Tangible! Messy! Lovely and dear.


Baby Journal is just that. A compact home for all of your firsts with a little love.

There are pages for filling in, pages with recipes and lullabies, and pages with pockets for anything you want to add. It’s bound with an elastic strap, so all of the special things stay tucked inside.


For handwriting? Or mini-pictures? Or thumbprints? It’s up to you.

BabyJournal_300113-25Yasmin Smail’s gorgeous colors and textures will beautifully frame the story of yours. Such a treasure!


(I know. Adorable.) BabyJournal_300113-53 BabyJournal_300113-45       BabyJournal_300113-5

Baby shower coming up? Pair this with one of my favorite board books and you’ve got a fantastic gift for a new mama. Adorable analog memories!